Please welcome Janie Chodosh, author of Death Spiral.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
I have many variations of the perfect day: The perfect family day, the perfect active outdoors day, the perfect writing day, so here is a blend of all three: I start with a great cup of coffee followed by some physical outdoor activity such as a run, a bike ride, or some rock climbing. Next, I sit at my desk, which overlooks the treetops and the myriad birdlife in our backyard, for some quiet writing time. Then I play with my daughter and have a nice dinner with my family. Finally, I curl up in bed with a great book and fall asleep reading.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature colors are greens and purples. My signature accessory is either silver hoop earrings or dog fur! With two dogs, everything I own ends up covered in fur, so I might as well embrace it and start a new fashion trend.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced you creatively:
Jennifer Owings Dewey got me started, or I should say, “restarted” with writing. She is a writer and an illustrator and for many years I attended a writing group in her small adobe house. Mr. Pappas, a high school teacher who taught a class called media studies, got me thinking “outside the box.” I’ve been inspired by many of today’s young adult writers. One of the first YA writers I read and who blew my mind was KL Going and the book Fat Kid Rules the World.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I’m too easily distracted to listen to music when I write. Lately, though, I’ve started listening to a “brain wave” app, which does seem to help my concentration and focus. Something about the rhythmic lull helps me zone in more deeply on the writing.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with a hint of unexpected spice. Faith Flores, the protagonist of Death Spiral, and the next two books, has a dark edge to her personality, but she can also be sassy and surprising.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write something with a contemporary scientific theme and genetic testing and gene therapy are both contemporary scientific issues. I wanted to make science exciting and relevant to teen readers. In terms of character, I wanted to write about a girl who uses her brains to navigate and solve complex scientific problems. There are many girls in current YA dystopian novels, many of whom are heroines based on physical ability. I wanted a female character who, due to gender, ethnicity, and economic circumstances, is marginalized, yet through her killer brainpower, determination, and grit, put her in a position of power.
What themes do you regularly visit in your writing?
Although not exactly a theme, I always include the natural world in my stories. I am a naturalist and I love the outdoors. Birds are part of both Death Spiral and book two, which I am currently writing. In Death Spiral, a white bird shows up throughout the story. The white bird (an albino mutation in Faith’s eyes; an angel in her mother’s eyes) has deep symbolism in terms of Faith’s arc and Faith’s evolving understanding of her mother. I also revisit themes of justice, class, and identity. Throughout the series, Faith learns more and more about her ethnic background and embraces who she is. Finally, the series is called The Faith Flores Science Mysteries, so scientific themes will show up in all the books.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her to be the person she is today?
Faith was raised by a junkie mother and no father. She spent most of her sixteen years in urban Philadelphia, moving from place to place. Faith is resourceful, grounded, and determined despite deep-rooted traumas, insecurities, and other flaws. Faith loves science, and she dreams of going to college and becoming a scientist. She is mixed racially, which becomes important in later books as she discovers her ethnic roots, which in book one she knows nothing about.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three characters
Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with Dragon Tattoo meets Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone meets Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are six writers you’d include
Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (I consider these two writers of the BBC Sherlock a team, and therefore count them as one person), Suzanne Collins, and Dorothy Sayers.
What’s next for you?
I am currently writing book two in the series, and thinking of book three as I go.
As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Janie Chodosh wanted to major in “all things interesting,” a field that included courses in biology, ecology, natural resources management, creative writing, and poetry. After college Janie moved to Yosemite National Park, where she worked as a naturalist and educator and learned to rock climb, back country ski, and entertain herself with nothing more than a field guide, a trail, and a pair of binoculars.
As a graduate student in the University of Montana’s environmental studies program, the list of “all things interesting” expanded to include Spanish and environmental education. For her thesis, she traveled to a rural community on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to develop an environmental education program focusing on neo-tropical migratory songbirds (a fancy title for birds that breed in the north and winter south of the border). At thirty, Janie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work first as the education director for the state Audubon Society and later as a teacher.
During her formative years, and even when she was studying everything else under the sun, Janie always wanted to be a writer. (If you don’t believe her, you are invited to check out the boxes and boxes of stories, diaries, poems, plays, and random thoughts she has written since she could first hold a pencil). Janie is also a scientist wannabe, but once she realized she only liked to muck around in the cool places and would never actually be a real scientist, she married one instead.
When not writing, Janie like to hang out with her family, rock climb, try to garden in the arid southwest, bird watch, travel, and attempt to play Klezmer music on her violin.